In Garfagnana, there is a small but enchanting sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna della Guardia di Colle Argegna. This precious piece of history harks back to the pilgrims from the three surrounding slopes (Serchio, Magra and Secchia). The same can be seen at the Ospizio di San Nicolao at the Tea passage that used by pilgrims and merchants. From here you pass along a stretch of the Via Francigena that passes through Garfagnana as it runs from Lunigiana to Lucca. Here we find centuries of history in a landscape of gently rolling hills, fields and pastures criss-crossed by hedgerows, all among the Serchio and Aulella valleys.
The itinerary that we suggest here covers untouched countryside and the culture of Garfagnana: an oasis of paradise in the Tuscan Apennines that is home to hermitages, castles and the Via Francigena.
From the Carpinelli provincial road, a brief detour leads you up to Giuncugnano, a small village huddled against the southern slopes of a ridge between tributaries of the Serchio that run down from the nearby Argegna hills. Soon after passing through the village, the road comes to a cross roads on the ridge: parking here, look to the left for the path signed in white and red (it is unnumbered) that climbs up in a SW direction. Once you have passed the start of an aqueduct continue your climb through re-planted conifer forest (always following signs) until the tarmac path reaches a fountain. Carry on going straight towards the nearby Monte Argegna Sanctuary.
The sanctuary was built at the end of the 14th century in the vast pastures of Mount Argegna in honor of the Madonna della Guardia. She was revered, mainly in Liguria, so that she would the protect the towns that she looked out over, Lunigiana and Garfagnana. The sanctuary was destroyed in the Second World War but was stubbornly re-built as it was, in its dominant position over-looking the gulf of Spezia. Here you will also find a hiking refuge with a trattoria that welcomes travelers.
From the Sanctuary, continue up the meadow slopes, passing the cross and countryside and finally re-joining the tarmac road at a panoramic viewpoint that looks out the Apennine peaks of the Mommio Alps. Here you can see the mountain groups M. Prado-M. Vecchio, and further east, M. Giovo-Rondinaio with the Apuan Alps as a backdrop and with M. Pisanino in the foreground. Following the road to the left you will gradually climb the hill along a road lined by high alder trees that continue uphill after a bend.
Soon you will notice a path going up to the left with a sign that indicates the way to the S. Nicolao ruins. These are the recent excavations of the basement of the medieval S. Nicolao hospital that was active during the pilgrim era along the Via Francigena between the 10th and 13th centuries. Ceramic remains, graves and commercial objects have all been found here.
Not by chance, it was built right next to the Tea valley, one of the most used passes of its day, up until the 19th century, as it connected Lugigiana to Garfagnana as well as Lombardy to Lucca and Tuscany.
You can follow along the old mule track to Ponteccio, until you reach the border with the Minucciano and Giuncugnano communes.
After and few minutes, be sure to stay on the main path to the right of the chestnut forest known as the Pian di Seccia. An uphill will take you to a bend towards the end of the Fosso Grosso valley, and you will finally reach a cross roads near La Serra.
Walking down to the left, you will reach the village of Magliano in about 10 minutes, to the right of the tourism spot called Gambrano (you can reach Giuncugnano from here). Follow the signed path that descends in front of you down to the right and cross the Fosso di Felicaia. In a few minutes you will reach the cross roads from where you left at monte di Giuncugnano.